By Manny Menchel, Candidate for MAJNM ‘17
An important and distinct attribute of American Judaism is the role that denominationalism plays in shaping Jewish identity as well as establishing the makeup of the Jewish community writ large. One well-documented area relating to challenges surrounding denominationalism is an inherent factionalism that accompanies it, and consequential rifts that form between members and member-organizations within the Jewish community. There have been many varying communal efforts to respond to and counteract these rifts. This research is a qualitative analysis aimed to understand the role of Jewish central bodies in responding to American Jewish denominational factionalism and the lessons learned in developing a system that promotes Jewish unity.
The interviews conducted were an examination of the roles and intentions of central bodies relating to interdenominational connectivity and exchange. The results are an illustration of what successful interdenominational connectivity looks like among central bodies in the Jewish community, and a collection of identifiable initiatives, practices, and ideologies that can serve to promote exchange between Jewish denominations, as well as practices and ideologies that hinder connectivity and further propagate communal factionalism. The findings demonstrate that interdenominational connectivity is a matter of high priority for central bodies in the Jewish community, and their lead professionals are constantly engaged in processes to better understand and implement initiatives that can support unified or shared Jewish expression. One trend discovered is that although shared practice allows for ubiquitous connectivity and exchange between denominations, Orthodoxy administers various standards that often preclude sharing such space. Some central institutions that are committed to serving as a platform for broad Jewish engagement aim to lean out and leave those obstacles to interdenominational connectivity out of the corpus of their practice, and some aim to name those differences and challenges and lean in with an inclusive language and process.